Monday, February 25, 2013
The health benefits of optimism
At the Vietnamese restaurant, my cookie fortune read, “Your life will be happy and peaceful.” My husband laughed and said, “It figures you would get that fortune.”
He is a self-admitted pessimist, and I suspect my upbeat, positive attitude gets a little annoying sometimes. But I firmly believe there are health benefits to optimism. I decided to Google “health benefits of optimism” and got 1,120,000 hits.
A 2011 Mayo Clinic article reported that researchers continue to explore the effects of optimism on health. Positive thinking may provide these health benefits:
• Increased life span
• Lower stress levels
• Lower rates of depression
• Greater resistance to common colds
• Better psychological and physical well-being
• Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
• Better coping skills during hardships and stressful times.
It's unclear why people who engage in positive thinking experience these health benefits. One theory is that having a positive outlook enables you to cope better with stressful situations, which reduces the harmful health effects of stress on your body. It's also thought that optimistic people tend to live healthier lifestyles — they get more physical activity, follow a healthier diet, and usually don't smoke or drink alcohol in excess.
This would be bad news for pessimists, except renowned psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman promotes the idea of “learned optimism.” He outlines a series of steps pessimists can take to re-think their approach to problems and stressful situations; view them as opportunities instead of negative forces. It’s an attitude adjustment that takes practice. There is a choice to be made: view life by looking at the positive side.
I’ve decided it is my mission to convert my husband to optimism. When I shared that with him, his reply was, “Good luck with that one.” Clearly, I have a lot of work to do!
Alice Facente is a community education nurse for the Backus Health System. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at www.backushospital.org/backus-blogs or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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